There is a terrible empty feeling following the outcome of the UN climate talks in Madrid. It could – and should – have been different. National self-interest was allowed to prevail. The need for collective action in the best interests of Planet Earth had never been greater. The latest alarm bells from climate science rang loudly in the days before COP25 opened two weeks ago.
The agenda was clear: a need for countries to declare bolder climate actions, to end abuses in the way big countries trade in carbon with the pretence of helping to cut global emissions, and to scale up funding for developing countries already experiencing climate shocks. This was to bolster the Paris Agreement as it goes into its critical implementation phase next year and to reinforce its environmental integrity.
Joint hosts Chile and Spain failed on all three fronts. Moreover, the outcome underlines a gaping disconnect between politicians and people across the world demanding much more urgency in the response to an accelerating climate crisis. It was a time when consensus and solidarity were desperately needed.
Many political leaders deserve to pay a heavy price for this grossly inadequate response, not least those big carbon-emitting countries such as Brazil, the US, and Australia. Their leaders deserve to be ostracised as they continue to pedal climate denialism and to facilitate fossil fuel expansion – though many climate activists, regions, businesses and citizens in their countries should be supported in their decarbonisation efforts.
The announcement last week of the EU's green new deal, with a carbon-neutral Europe as its overarching objective, provided a welcome fillip to the talks as they entered their final phase. Some 120 countries, including Ireland, confirmed they would be matching the EU's climate ambition for 2030 in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and seeking carbon neutrality by 2050. Europe is set to stake its economic future on an environmental clean-up that will overhaul the way the world's biggest single market polices businesses and manages trade relations – with decarbonisation and a just transition moving to the heart of economic policy.
Globally, it shows the kind of leadership that has been lacking, though China looks to row in with such efforts and address its vast emissions. Such a course is vital to have any chance of keeping global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees. But COP25 failed to match such ambition. During its closing segment Norway's youth delegate Sofie Nordvik was allowed address negotiators and summed up best the dereliction of environmental duty: "We lack the ambition needed to avoid this climate emergency. Our leaders need to step up. The world would have looked very different if young people were in charge today."